The Idled Young Americans

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jacob
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Post by jacob »

I would also add that in a world where GDP is increasingly leveraged by automatization in the form of robots and computer systems and where the profit goes to the owners of those assets, you probably don't want to spend your entire paycheck on consumption. Invest some!


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Sclass
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Post by Sclass »

Robots are a big deal. I spent half of my time doing manufacturing fixture design for electronics. There was this self fulfilling prophecy in that it got harder and harder to find techs who understood electronics which forced the automated diagnostics to get better and better. Pretty soon all you could find were button pressers not debuggers.
I think old people hanging on is another incremental force. I can see older teachers in the grade schools surviving layoffs in my town while the young ones without seniority get booted. An aunt who worked at the local high school up to her retirement a couple of years ago said she held on till 77 because she couldn't afford to quit. I don't have my facts together but people just seem to be healthier longer...but they spend themselves poor so they're still working. I mean look at the mom working beyond retirement to insure her adult kids...isn't she part of the problem?
When I worked at HP it seemed that promotion was all done by seniority. There were a ton of old obsolete engineers hanging on to all the juicy spots. It reminded me of tenured profs in academia. As much as Carly Fiorina was hated she can be credited for axing a lot of deadwood. Not that she didn't accidentally kill a few of our old wizards in the cull.
Yeah the pie is shrinking, the Economy sucks and there just aren't jobs for every grad. I just bought a new iPad off a gal at the Berkeley Apple store who had a marine biology degree. She was happy to have a job selling igoods.


Felix
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Post by Felix »

"Yeah the pie is shrinking, the Economy sucks and there just aren't jobs for every grad."
Well, the Dow Jones just reached an all-time high. So it depends on your position in the economy. But the piece of the pie for those who need to work for their money due to a lack of investment income (most people) is definitely shrinking.


dalralmi
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Post by dalralmi »

On the subject of parents paying for things for their kids. This forum is probably a bad subset, however as a sister to five brothers I have some insight on this.
My parents growing up always promised us 4 years paid at a local instate college. No room and board nothing else and if we failed a class we had ot repay them the tuition. While this probably set back my parents it was able to make sure all of us graduated with no debt which they had to do from their parents. My parents are separated... however my father probably didn't set himself back at all he just had to work longer, but I feel he'd have done that anyway... my mother is breakin gher bank supporting us. In breakdown of my family who all grew up fairly similar.
Oldest brother dropped out after one semester.... spent months abusing money, declared bankruptcy, moved home a few times where he had no rent and is now 16 years later just getting his life together and going back to school on his own dime. It was a rough road for this one.
Next brother graduated college with a History degree and was disappointed when the job market sucked and he didn't want to teach. He got a job in Japan for 3 years came home and felt like the family should take care of him... He eventually moved out on his own and is now going for a master's in education... however his job propects and savings rate are minimal (he works customer service).
Me. Engineering Degree moved out the second I graduated college and haven't looked back. I've been working for 4 years and will probably retire before either of my parents.
Younger brother just graduated with a double major in Criminal Justice/Pyschology and not only did he get college paid for by the parents but he worked/volunteered full time while doing so (something I did not do). He right now works two jobs at 60 hours a week not cause he needs to but wants to stay busy. I have a feeling he won't be ERE but he will be fiscally responable his whole life.
Next brother joined the Airforce (and is probably worse off than the oldest) after staying home for a year without working until my parents told him either he joins the force, goes to college, or pays rent somehow.
The youngest is probably gonna beat us all he just started college... but his idealogies are similar to my own and I forsee him beating me.
Point being from a provided standpoint my parents have always been helicopter parents and though they wouldn't want to would always provide for us if we needed it the caveat is they would be hounding our butts to get a job and attempt to get stable. My brothers know my money situation and we all had the same upbringing, however their personalities drove a different action. So though I looked at College as a headstart on savings my brothers viewed it as free money and now they had more money to spend on other things.
Sorry for the longness, everybody is different. I think a Lot of it is WHO you surround yourself with as oppose to what your parents did for you.


dalralmi
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Post by dalralmi »

Also I think having multiple older siblings drove the younger siblings behavior. I saw my older brothers struggle and move back home and thought I'll never do that.. so it drove my actions. Same for my other younger brothers especially after seeing me. The airforce one is a fluke...


mds
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Post by mds »

It's pretty cliche to say, but I agree this is probably due to technology and globalization. I just finished a book called Plutocrats, which describes the trend. Here's a shorter version in article form: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/arc ... _page=true
I think profits per employee is a good metric to see this in action:
http://www.sageworks.com/blog/post/2011 ... rease.aspx
You can see it drops in 2008, but when it rebounds in 2011, it's way higher than the pre-recession numbers. I'd like to see data for 2012 in there too to see if the trend is continuing.


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Sclass
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Post by Sclass »

@dalrami whoa, I wanted to just shout Yay! When I heard you are an engineer moving aggressively towards ERE. Good stuff. I got really depressed reading about your bros. My sister really burned my parents money in college. Her appartment in grad school and college were better furnished than my current abode (I'm 44!). She earns a decent wage now but burns it all. We were cast in the same mold by a financially conservative family but our individual personalities sent us down different paths. You have that right - everyone is different. Love long posts too, more info.
@Felix you definitely got it right. The Dow rise isn't mirrored by govt budget cuts or worse the rise in student debt. How many recent grads have stock portfolios? Only a small percentage of the population (uh oh class warfare) are benefiting from the rally. Most of my worker bee pals have just gotten their confidence up enough to pile back into stocks and boy oh boy you can really see the vicious feedback loop go into action.
Yeah the economy doesn't suck for me, I sold my Apple stock (last year thank God) and bought the iPad. The girl selling me the iPad is dealing with a sucky economy. In a perfect world shed be diving with the Shark Attack film crew for discovery channel or working as a researcher for the DOI but alas she's happy to sell iPads.
I got into an argument with my SO about this thread this morning. She protested that it was all about older workers with entitlement. I argued it is a handful of things all mentioned here. No one thing...like globalization alone is to blame. Or old folks alone, or too many college grads, or too small GDP growth, or industrial automation. It seems like it is a whole mess of things working as a headwind on the kids.
You see this kind of multi headed beast messing up Japan's youth.


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Sclass
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Post by Sclass »

@mds thanks for the depressing link. The article hits the nail on the head. Brutal and depressing...I guess it's why it hurts so much. I wanted to read Plutocracy but I'm depressed enough now thank you.
More argument to ERE. Enough making the top brass rich. They can pay somebody else to be their sucker.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Lately, I've been reading a lot of Maker culture books. Here the attitude is to take the initiative to solve a problem, tinker, be entrepreneurial, connect with other smart people, leverage all this new fancy technology that make the production cycle oh-so-easy, and proceed to rake in the cash.
In Gervais or MacLeod terms, this is a sociopath/techie combination. What's pertinent though is that while traditionally, companies were started by savvy sociopaths, who then proceeded to hire some Losers and then inserted a Clueless middle management layer... technology is replacing the "I have a college degree, so therefore I expect to collect 40k/year for life with minimal effort"-Loser.
This is a good development and a bad development. On the one hand a single person with $10 down can outcompete national newspapers in terms of readership (the ERE blog did that when I was still active). You can start a billiona dollar business out of a dorm room ala facebook.
On the other hand, it means that there are no longer room nor need for "infrastructure staffers" who piggyback on the entrepreneurial efforts of the Sociopaths.
The main problem today? The education system is set up to create Losers and Clueless personnel. Sociopaths tend to drop out and start their own show ASAP already. The answer is not to create Losers and Clueless with longer educations but to change the character of education. This is a structural problem which will take a couple of generations to sort out. Unfortunately, as always, if the current solution clearly doesn't work, the first impulse is to try the same solution harder. Insanity in action.


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Post by J_ »

+1 for Jacob's analysis. Plus add a going mad administration on local and higher levels. It took me 9 months + € 10.000 only to change zoning regulations to convert office-space (in a normal housing district) to two bungalows!
Does it seem that Losers and Clueless are going to (hide) in administration jobs?


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

I'm very skeptical of the maker culture being a net benefit to laborers overall. Again, you have to remember that in their incubation periods, people like Zuckerberg and Gates were receiving support--what Stanley calls economic outpatient care.
Sure, they were college kids so they get a pass, but if society is moving as a whole towards this individual unpaid incubator entrepreneur model instead of the salaryman model, you're going to have a lot of thirtysomethings with children who are desperately trying to concoct something that will yield enough profit to support their families while receiving no income from their labor.
Additionally, people tend to forget that for ever Gates or Zuckerberg there are 100,000 failures. A corporation can create a diversified portfolio of entrepreneurs in the form of workers to ensure that the profit from the breakout success worker makes up for the losses from the failures. This is what Google has been doing for years.
Transferring the risk from the corporation to the individual worker will be more efficient at the macro level by transferring risk to the individual. If Google fired all of its employees and said they will buy an employee's idea if it goes to market and becomes successful, they're pushing the risk onto their ex-employees. The result would be much greater profits for Google (this is why VCs and private equity firms have massive net income) by creating less stability and security for its former workers.
If this is the future, there are two ways people today can prepare:
1. Built up a nest egg to be more reliant on income from capital and less income from labor.

2. Don't have children. You'll be less in a position to provide for them, and there probably won't be jobs or many economic opportunities for them anyway.


mds
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Post by mds »

secretwealth, I'd add, piggybacking on jacob's comment:
3) Learn how to be more sociopathic/technocratic
The problem is that most people, myself included, lack whatever that gene is that provides that kind of drive, so I'm curious if there's another solution. If all the white collar clueless/loser jobs go away, what will these people do? Will they all be relegated to low skill jobs?
So maybe there's a fourth:
4) Become a loser who understands the game
I believe it's possible to maintain your loser status as long as you have a technical role in a field that is relatively dynamic and isn't getting axed wholesale. If you can stay just a few months ahead of the curve, you can maintain your role.
The obvious example for me is software. 10 years ago you could get paid tens of thousands of dollars to setup a website for someone. Now my girlfriend with a liberal arts degree can do it in a day even though she can't setup the printer. If you had a CS degree and didn't learn anything between 2003 and now, you'd be screwed. I think a good heuristic could be to simply choose the intellectually hardest path. For example, should I learn web development or C++? C++ is harder, so choose that. Some skills can be intellectually hard, but too obscure, so it's possible to go too far.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

The point about software goes back to the main theme I'm extracting here: the commodification of white-collar labor. The obvious solution, of course, is to improve your skill set to be ahead of the curve--but that's been true since the invention of the wheel. But that still doesn't change the fact that, in aggregate, individuals' improved skills will yield less reward over time. Today, the skill of website creation is worthless commodity. In 10 years, let's say the skill of app creation will be a wothless commodity. And so on and so on.
Trying to stay ahead of the curve will offer diminishing returns. It already has, for 40+ years.


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Post by Felix »

“This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”
- Douglas Adams - The salmon of doubt
If the average worker is unable to maintain the ecosystem that used to sustain him, this seems to be where he is headed ...
I have said more than often enough that I believe the problem is not technology, but politics.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

I think it's both.
On the technology side, you have automation replacing labor on higher and higher orders of complexity (the toll booth worker phenomenon). We've gone from replacing Luddites with power looms to replacing coders with scripts and GUI interfaces, replacing traders with algorithms and computers, and replacing personal assistants with smartphones, web calendars, and Google. White class labor is clearly on the road to complete commodification, causing people higher and higher up the corporate food chain to justify their paychecks.
On the politics side, you have an imbalance of power between capital and labor. Capital has free global movement. Labor does not. Of course, free movement means greater opportunity, so capital is amassing greater and greater power and wealth. The only way for labor to offset this is to be willing to move--the plot device of the shitty sitcom Outsourced, and the reality for a growing number of working expats worldwide. Why is capital able to cross borders without getting advanced approval of sovereign states in the form of a visa, but labor cannot?


mds
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Post by mds »

I think you're right about the diminishing returns simply because change is accelerating.
Felix why do you think it's politics and not just a byproduct of capitalism?


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

That's an interesting question--how can you distinguish between economics and politics? They seem irrevocably linked to me; political systems exist to protect economic systems, and economic systems tend to create political systems that protect their interests. From North Korea to the founding fathers, this seems pretty constant.


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Post by jacob »

"Why is capital able to cross borders without getting advanced approval of sovereign states in the form of a visa, but labor cannot?"
The highly skilled/moneyed labor can move easily. The middle/non-skilled can not due to labor-protectionism ("the immigrants are stealing our jobs").
There was a quote in the Plutocracy article to the effect of "why should I be sorry that 1 person in first world goes from middle class to lower class if it means the 4 people in the developing world gets to middle class"/"why should I pay $40000/year for the same work that someone with a different color passport will do for $10000/year".
That's the other part of the picture (the broken window) that goes unseen when we talk about declining wages in the US. Wages in the developing world are rising fast; so what if the middle class first worlder can't afford premium cable anymore when it's due to some hardworking N-worlder now being able to buy a TV.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

"The highly skilled/moneyed labor can move easily. The middle/non-skilled can not due to labor-protectionism ("the immigrants are stealing our jobs")."
Well, no. Not as easily as capital. No matter how highly skilled you are, you still need a visa. Yes, there are expedited tracks, but it still requires governmental approval at a not-so-high level, whereas I can transfer capital from here to, say, Switzerland with a keystroke. Let alone what HSBC can do (with some amusing scandals to boot: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/11/hsbc_to ... g_scandal/)
And, Jacob, yeah, I totally agree with you from an ethical standpoint--globalization is a good thing, overall. But to say that this development somehow helps the lower middle class of the developed world is a lie. They're takinga haircut in favor of the ultra wealthy and the ultra poor. Public debate should focus on this phenomenon, instead of wallpapering it over with the "you just gotta work harder" truism or the garage-based entrepreneur fantasy.


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Post by Ego »

There is an article in this month's Mother Jones about this:
http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/0 ... automation
"The Luddites weren't wrong. They were just 200 years too early."
and
"Increasingly, then, robots will take over more and more jobs. And guess who will own all these robots? People with money, of course. As this happens, capital will become ever more powerful and labor will become ever more worthless. Those without money—most of us—will live on whatever crumbs the owners of capital allow us."


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